Cushing syndrome, as it relates to the adrenal gland, is most often caused by an adrenal tumor. As a result of the tumor, the adrenal gland is stimulated to overproduce cortisol. Excess cortisol causes a host of physical and psychological problems that can range from fat redistribution and muscle problems to sexual dysfunction and depression. The most common ailments include:
- Moon face – redness and fullness in the face
- Fat accumulation in the abdomen with fat loss in the extremities
- A clear indication of Cushing Syndrome is the development of fat between the shoulders
- Skin infections, purple striae (marks), easy bruising
- Muscle aches, bone and joint pain, bone fractures
- Decreased sex drive or impotence for men, irregular menstruation for women
- Depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders
Cushing disease, an element of Cushing Syndrome, occurs when the pituitary gland produces too much ACTH hormone (due to a tumor or hyperplasia). ACTH, in turn, activates the production of cortisol through the adrenal gland. If the pituitary gland, and not the adrenal gland, is indeed the cause of the excess cortisol production, the adrenal gland will not be surgically removed or treated.
Treatment for Cushing Syndrome
Treatment for Cushing Syndrome, when caused by adrenal tumors, involves the surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland, called an adrenalectomy. The procedure, most often performed in a minimally invasive manner, requires about a day or two of recovery in the hospital and approximately a week of home recovery before returning to normal activity. Patients will likely have to start a course of cortisol or prednisone after surgery to allow the remaining adrenal gland to compensate for the removal of the diseased gland. This is usually a temporary treatment that will slowly be weaned over time.